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Paradise Lost is one of the most important poems (bbc.com)
144 points by keiferski 28 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments



I can highly, highly recommend listening to John Rogers’ set of lectures on Paradise Lost, ideally as you’re reading through the poem (one book, one lecture). It was how I first read the poem and it massively enriched the experience: https://oyc.yale.edu/english/engl-220

(It also inspired me to start my education business)


Just like Joyce's Ulysses, Dostoevsky's work, etc. those all are books that some people consider hugely important, yet because of their difficulty, they won't touch lives of many. Even students of literature often don't understand these works.

And so, I am sceptical when they get pronounced as extremely important. 'Important to whom?' seems to be the crucial question...


You're missing the point in a way that brings to mind a great Brian Eno quote. "The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band".


The best art is more like a laser beam than a flood light. It doesn't hit everyone, but those it hits, it burns.


Milton's Paradise Lost changed centuries of how poetry is considered and continues to strongly influence modern literature today. It's one of the great pieces of work in the English language and themes introduced in this work have impact on modern English media (if not international media).

This would be like calling Shakespeare's importance into question.

Milton and Shakespeare touch the lives of anyone who experiences English language and media written in English language. Whether or not this is understood is another question entirely.


> This would be like calling Shakespeare's importance into question.

Reminds me of one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons: two people walking out of a theatre showing a Shakespeare play, one saying to the other, "I don't know what the big deal is. It was just one cliché after another."

Once something is so deeply embedded into the fabric of a culture, it becomes the equivalent of "do fish know they are in water?"


I'd argue that the importance of a literary work does not end at the reader. If the work changes the reader's world view and changes their behaviour, then it could in turn effect the way they interact with others.

Just being in the same room as someone who has understood Dante's Inferno, for example, might well have effects that alter the course of your life.

Proving this would be another thing entirely, however.


One of the best classes I ever took in my life anywhere was a course in college on Dante. It wasn't so much that I was inspired by Dante as I was by the professor. He had an absolutely magical obsession with the Divine Comedy. That level of articulate enthusiasm for anything at all is something I've rarely come across in adult life.


Dostoevsky is hardly difficult in the way that Joyce is. I mean, yes, there’s lots of layers to uncover, but he’s downright comedic when the situation calls of it (e.g. Mitya’s carousing and subsequent arrest in Karamazov is a fine piece of comedy writing and extremely accessible, regardless of the complexity of his motives).


Indeed. I couldn't get more than a few pages into Joyce, but Dostoyevsky's works are a joy. Very relateable human drama. You can enjoy it even on superficial levels, and catch more later on a reread.


Joyce is intentionally written to be difficult. Never understood what all the fuss was about.

I enjoy Paradise Lost because it is cinematic. It may be just me, but it seems like an epic sci-fi space opera. For any lurkers who haven't read it (or recall being miserable being forced to read sections of it in school) I'd highly recommend it. Once you get past the arachaic language and odd sentence structure (it is a poem, after all) you're left with one of the wildest, suspenseful, horrific, adventure stories ever written.


In literature studies, "important" usually means how many other works have been influenced by a work.


I wonder why they don't use the word "influential" then, if that's what they mean.

To me, the word important has a distinct prescriptive ring to it. As in "this book is important, therefore you should go read it". The word imfluential is more descriptive and does not have such connotations.


That is what the word means.

Important: 1.2 (of an artist or artistic work) significantly original and influential. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/important


Exactly, His Dark Materials is mentioned in the article and is hugely popular.


Probably true, but this also means that you need to find the source. And this is where debate occurs.

In this same way Enrique Iglesias would be called "extremely important" by naive musical literaries, Bloodhound Gang would be called "extremely important" by competent scholars; and finally, Pet Shop boys would casually be mentioned as "influential" by Yoda-level master scholars.


> 'Important to whom?' seems to be the crucial question...

One example: It was important to Melville - we actually have his copy of Milton's poetical works (including Paradise Lost) with his notes, underlines, etc that was purchased in 1849. Work on Moby Dick started in February 1850, and Satan was obviously a very strong influence on Captain Ahab.

http://melvillesmarginalia.org/Note.aspx?id=107

https://www.amazon.com/Melville-Milton-Melvilles-Annotations...


Also consider that it is important to the people who have read them. Many people claim that reading Dostoevsky changed their lives, gave them much more purpose, and helped them define who they are and want to be.

Great literature helps you understand the world, and yourself. It helps peel back that onion.


Important to whom?

Important in the sense that they greatly inspired people to go on and create other works that would go on to touch many lives.


I hated Milton before re-reading Paradise Lost while taking a Milton lecture alongside an Early American Lit course in undergrad. He had a huge influence on Phillis Wheatley writing style and her work and legacy was awe inspiring to me. His work only became important to me once I viewed it through that context. I think a lot of classic works can become important on a personal level when you can see the threads from the past woven into your contemporary interests.


Why is this the top comment? What value does it add? This is almost a textbook case of “the middlebrow dismissal”.

Paradise Lost is one of the single most influential and brilliant pieces of literature in the history of the English language.


He asked : why is it important ? You answered : because it is important. His comment has value because he's questionning an ill defined 'authority'. You accused him of a commiting a logical fallacy while committing one yourself. I learned more by reading the answers to his question than by reading your comment.


To quote Wikipedia, "Paradise Lost has had a profound impact on writers, artists and illustrators, and, in the twentieth century, filmmakers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradise_Lost_in_popular_cultu...

I'm sorry, but the idea that a single paragraph HN comment is some kind of deep philosophical point about the nature of authority is absurd. It was a glib dismissive comment, skeptical not for any well-thought out reason, but simply because they personally didn't understand it. I don't know how precisely I'd define anti-intellectualism, but that comes pretty close.


This quote is gold, and I think this is the best answer you could have come with in the first place.


William Blake is only mentioned in passing in the article but his illustrations of Paradise Lost are themselves standalone works of art [0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Blake%27s_illustration...


Likewise, Gustave Doré's illustrations: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Illustrations_of...


Thank you for this link! These are truly beautiful.


Wow, yes. Thanks for the link.


The language and imagery of this poem is worth the effort it takes to read it. It helps to have a good mythology reference nearby because he wraps the biblical story in references to classical mythology which gives it all a deeper meaning. It is amazing that he was blind when he wrote it and dictated a new section from memory each morning.


I read an annotated edition once, well tried to. The problem is if you actually pay attention to all the annotations pointing our references to this, influences on the text from that, digressions on the other it would take forever. The breadth and depth of the man's classical knowledge was extraordinary.


Honestly, it's more fun to read aloud, skipping the references. The Devil gets all the best lines IMO.


> Samuel Johnson ranked Paradise Lost among the highest “productions of the human mind”

Although I enjoyed it, I think Samuel Johnson was also right when he said that "none ever wished longer than it was."

Like a lot of literature from that time it can be hard to understand without a fair amount of background knowledge in Christian theology. That was taken for granted then (and really up until the 20th century), but makes it operate in a different intellectual universe than many of us do today.


http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=3086

(I mean, I'd totally read that, too)

But yeah, I really enjoyed reading Paradise Lost; I mean, I read everything on the kindle, but I think I need to find a nice bound edition that includes Dore's illustrations.


I mean paradise lost is beautiful... but I'd really like an analysis of "The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates" - like, was it "written to reconcile men's minds," or was it, instead a craven and ill-timed attempt to ingratiate himself with the winners of the recent revolution?


He'd been writing parliamentarian and anti-clerical pamphlets since before the civil war, so it was already quite clear where his sympathies and loyalty lay.


For a common reader, it is quite difficult to appreciate unless it is presented in a fully annotated form, which explains all the allusions and references Milton makes.

I also think than Dryden's Aeneiad is as important as Paradise Lost.



I have to confess what I know about Paradise lost comes from the movie Animal House.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ciw1os85nz0


I still recall my English Lit teacher in 11th grade bringing this to us. To hear her explain how Milton made the Devil the rebel and hero versus god was almost shocking for a 16 year old.


I'm disappointed that the article didn't explore another perspective on Milton's Satan, which is that the "Devil's party" is deliberately cast as more appealing than the virtuous one. Milton's point is that sin is exciting and enticing, while being principled takes hard work and dedication - as in the parable of the wide and narrow paths to salvation. Satan's rhetoric about democracy is insincere since what he really wants is tyranny and chaos, and the poem emphasises how humans need the aptitude to be able to recognise and reject such false language.

Of course Romantic poets brought a different, more familiar set of values to their reading of Paradise Lost, but I think it is more enlightening to understand the poem within the world in which it was written, and appreciate the depth of Milton's commitment to Puritan and Republican ideals even if aspects of them seem alien to the modern reader.


for anyone feeling flattened by modern tech-driven life, this poem is an antidote that will restore your soul


Any recommended print for this?


The Norton Critical Edition is pretty good, well annotated, and, if I'm correct, the "go to" edition used in a number of universities [0].

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Paradise-Norton-Critical-Editions-thi...


It depends if you desire an annotated version or just the epic poem itself. I admit that the epic poem itself is fairly dense and difficult to enjoy without context.


I read Paradise Lost every year around this time. I have it in my briefcse right now. It is the greatest thing written in the English language. Period.


This one of the best one which I enjoyed reading.




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